by Chet Raymo
“I may have been in the last generation of youngsters who grew up with an awareness of the works of Maxfield Parrish. The children's' books he illustrated were still in circulation. Reproductions of his works appeared with some regularity in books and magazines meant for kids, and they were commonly framed for children's rooms. To me, they represented a fantasy world, a never-never land of make-believe. Those skies! The blues! The golds! The luminous mists! The billowing clouds like castles in the air! The unearthly light that sugarcoats trees and crags! Certainly, nothing like the skies I experienced in Chattanooga.
Seeing is partly stimulus and partly imagination. I know now, six decades later, that Maxfield Parrish help prepare my imagination to see the sky. As I write, I am looking out at a tropical sunrise that could have been lifted from one of his paintings. Clouds heaped like cotton candy, suffused with pink and gold, against a backdrop of Parrish blue. Is this why I came to the tropics, not just for the stars, but for those childhood fantasies of dawns and dusks?
I try never to be too far away from a copy of Marcel Minnaert's "Light and Color in the Outdoors". Minnaert (1893-1970) was a Dutch astronomer who reveled in the magic of vision. His book first appeared in English in 1940; a new translation was prepared in 1993 to commemorate the centennial of the author's birth. It is a compendium of tricks of light and color in the natural world. Minnaert treats the colors of sea, sky, lakes, waterfalls, and puddles along the road. And treats they are: graces, revelations, great gusts of visual beauty blowing in the windows of the brain. For each luminous effect the author gives a scientific explanation.
And now, as I watch, the clouds rise and rise, changing color. The still-hidden Sun approaches the horizon, running through a Maxfield Parrish palette with its tricks of refraction and dispersion. Wake, wake, I whisper to my sleeping spouse, come look.”